BBD Editor: Dan Hope
With the preseason concluding this week, the Buffalo Bills were supposed to be wrapping up their competition between rookie EJ Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb to start the season as the team’s starting quarterback.
Instead, with Manuel coming off of a minor knee procedure and Kolb having left Saturday’s game early due to concussion-like symptoms, it is unlikely that either injured quarterback will play in Thursday’s preseason finale versus the Detroit Lions. Instead, as the Bills prepare for the potential of going into the start of the season without either Manuel or Kolb, they will have a far less enticing rookie versus veteran quarterback competition in the works on Thursday.
As first reported by Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo, the Bills signed veteran quarterback Matt Leinart on Sunday. The team and Leinart himself both confirmed the reports on Twitter.
Signing a veteran quarterback was a matter of necessity for the Bills. The injuries left undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel as the only healthy quarterback on the Bills’ roster. The Bills could not go into their final preseason game — and certainly not potentially into their first regular-season game — with only one healthy quarterback.
Given that, Leinart is expected to play Thursday even though he will have only been with the team for four days.
Since being selected as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Leinart’s NFL career has been a huge disappointment. Leinart battled injuries and inconsistent play in his first two seasons with the Cardinals, which eventually cost him the starting job for good to Kurt Warner. Over his four seasons with the Cardinals, he started just 17 games, and threw only 14 touchdowns with 20 interceptions.
Leinart was a backup for the Houston Texans in 2010-11 and for the Oakland Raiders last season, but has not been considered a viable starting quarterback candidate since flaming out with the Cardinals.
In the Bills’ starting quarterback competition as it pertains to the majority of the regular season, Leinart will not be a factor. If Manuel and Kolb were healthy, Leinart would not have been signed.
That said, there is a possibility that Leinart could be the Bills’ starting quarterback in Week 1. Either Manuel or Kolb will start if either of them is healthy when the regular season begins, but if both are sidelined, the Bills will have to make a decision between Leinart and Tuel.
Tuel has been with the team throughout the summer, and performed well enough early on that the Bills released veteran quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (who they would almost certainly like to have back now) prior to their mandatory minicamp. Considering that, Tuel remains firmly ahead of Leinart in the Bills’ quarterback pecking order. Tuel will almost certainly start for the Bills on Thursday, and he is in line for a roster spot in Buffalo as the No. 3 quarterback even when Manuel and Kolb are healthy.
That said, Tuel struggled Saturday versus the Washington Redskins, when he played more than three quarters of the game after Kolb was injured. He completed 10 of 17 passing attempts for just 63 yards, giving him a dismal average of 3.7 yards per passing attempt.
Tuel is a promising talent who made a strong impression in the Bills’ preseason opener, and he looks like a great find for quarterback depth as an undrafted rookie, but he is not a viable starting quarterback candidate for 2013.
For Leinart, signing with the Bills is an opportunity he must take advantage of immediately. If he can bring some steadiness to the Bills’ offense on Thursday and Tuel struggles again, he could have a shot to start in Week 1. But Leinart went unsigned until this point in the preseason for a reason.
Leinart is a temporary addition who fills the need for another quarterback on the roster, but once Manuel and Kolb return healthy, Leinart should be cut. It is imperative for him to perform well immediately, in an effort to either convince the Bills to keep him on the roster or to impress another team enough to land a spot on another roster.